A Black Friday timeline to help you maximize deals and minimize misery

Shop smarter.

The biggest shopping weekend of the year is almost upon us. Don’t wait until the day of and then hurl yourself into the mall at random. You should start planning this spree in advance to make sure you’ll grab the best items—the ones you actually want—at the best prices. We’ve written out a timeline of tasks for the week of Black Friday, so you can start preparing now to score the biggest discounts on the day.

Six days before: Review existing advice

The same tricks you can use while bargain-hunting throughout the year also work on Black Friday. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, make sure to review our Amazon shopping tips. For all other sites, we have a guide to finding deals on technology that you can apply to other types of products. Read through this advice and follow the tips that best suit your shopping habits.

Five days before: Write your shopping list

Sure, you’ll want to treat yourself to a few surprises over the Black Friday weekend. But to avoid snatching products at random, it helps to make an advance list of the items that you really want. Not only does this make your holiday shopping a lot more focused and efficient, it also means you won’t be as tempted to waste money on something you don’t need.

Whether you mark down a generic device (“good blender”) or a specific product (“BrandName’s Best Blender 2.0”), it’s a good idea to note the price range for each item. Then, once sales start, you can see how much dough you’ll actually be saving and make an informed decision. While you’re putting the list together, also bear in mind that certain items do not make good Black Friday bargains.

Once you finish your list, you’ll need to access it from any device—after all, you might spend Black Friday hunched over your laptop, shoving through crowds with your phone in hand, or both. So you should keep it on a good cross-platform note app. We like Google Keep (for Android, iOS, and online) and Apple Notes (for iOS and macOS).

Four days before: Register for updates

To eke out a head start over other shoppers, sign up for email and social media alerts. Do that in advance, and your inbox and feeds will receive links to special offers when the big day arrives. You might even get access to certain deals that aren’t promoted anywhere else.

For email, the sign-up process will vary from retailer to retailer. If you head to their websites, you should see a fairly prominent option to sign up for deals via email.

To connect to your favorite retailers on Twitter, Facebook, and any other social media platform, simply follow them, and the companies will post updates that keep you informed. On Twitter, you can even create a special list for Black Friday and include all the big retailers on it. To do this, visit your Twitter profile page, click Lists, and then choose Create a new list.

Three days before: Prepare your browser

In the age of online shopping, our web browsers have become our most valuable tools. Make sure yours is primed and ready to go before the weekend. First, make sure it’s running as quickly as possible by updating to the latest version and getting rid of any extensions you aren’t using. Read this guide for more details on how to do this.

Next, bookmark certain pages to give you a direction and purpose as you hop around the web on Friday. Find the websites of retailers that you want to check out—some even have specific Black Friday pages—and then add those URLs to your bookmarks. Give them descriptive names so you’ll know what you’re clicking. Don’t forget items on your shopping list. If you’re looking for specific products, go ahead and add bookmarks for those as well.

Two days before: Sign up for accounts

While you’re looking up items for your shopping list and your bookmark bar, you might catch sight of an unmissable bargain online. But if you wait to buy it, you’ll waste precious minutes of your Black Friday filling out your shipping address, phone number, and other information. That’s why you should sort this out ahead of time so that, in three days, you can buy items with as few clicks as possible.

To do that, sign up for accounts on all the big retail sites where you’re likely to shop: Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and so on. You might even consider signing up for Amazon Prime, which adds the benefits of faster shipping and early access to time-limited deals.

If the site you’ll be hitting up doesn’t have password-protected accounts, at least do a purchasing practice run beforehand. Don’t waste your money, but if there is something you need before Black Friday, try ordering it to make sure the checkout process doesn’t include any unexpected bumps in the road.

One day before: Plan which stores to hit

If you plan to brave the stores and malls on Black Friday weekend, you’ll probably want to visit multiple retailers. In that case, you should plan out your route in advance so you can minimize the time you waste sitting in traffic.

First, review the items on your shopping list and the deals in your inbox to start thinking about the retailers that stock your must-haves. Check their websites to see what time they’ll open on Black Friday. Then locate them on Google Maps or Apple Maps. Both services will calculate the optimal driving (or walking) route to hit as many locations as possible.

You don’t want to fight your way through traffic only to find a retailer ran out of your desired product. So while you’re reviewing maps on your phone, take the time to install specific apps for the stores, like Walmart and Best Buy, that you plan to visit. In addition to letting you compare prices, these apps will show you what’s in stock and what isn’t so you don’t waste a journey.

The big day: Be flexible

If you plan to stay indoors and shop online, you’ve already prepared your browser. To help it blaze ahead at top speed, close down those Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube tabs for the day. Now you can visit the sites on your pre-prepared list of bookmarks, keep an eye on your deal alerts, and compare prices for the items on your shopping list. Just keep an eye on how much you’re spending to make sure you don’t get carried away in a bargain frenzy.

For the real-world shoppers, as you follow your pre-planned route, remember to be flexible. Keep your map app open on your phone while you shop so you can view warnings about congestion and change your route accordingly. And remember to check each retailer store’s stock via its app before you head over there. At each location, focus on the products you know you want, but you can also allow some spontaneity—if you see a dream item, go ahead and nab it.